Gwyneth Paltrow Takes the Stand in Skiing Lawsuit Trial: Everything You Need to Know

Gwyneth Paltrow

The actress is being sued by a retired optometrist over a 2016 ski accident.

Gwyneth Paltrow's trial is officially underway. The actress was sued back in 2019 by a man named Terry Sanderson, who in his lawsuit claimed he sustained significant injuries in 2016 after Paltrow allegedly knocked him over while skiing a beginner-level course at a resort in Park City, Utah.

According to legal documents, obtained by ET, Sanderson, 76, is suing Paltrow for more than $300,000 in damages in connection to the Feb. 26, 2016 incident. The trial kicked off Tuesday, March 21 in Park City, where Paltrow filed a countersuit against Sanderson and is seeking $1 in symbolic damages plus attorney fees.

The trial is expected to last two weeks and it is being streamed live. With the trial officially underway, ET takes a closer look at how we got here.

What happened in 2016?

In legal documents, Sanderson, a retired optometrist, claims he was at Deer Valley Resort in Park City when he sustained "a brain injury, four broken ribs and other serious injuries" after Paltrow allegedly knocked him over while skiing a beginner-level course.

He went on to claim that Paltrow was skiing in an "out of control" manner and skied away without calling for help. He also alleges in the lawsuit that he was blamed for the accident by Deer Valley Resort staff in a filed incident report.

Sanderson initially sued for $3.1 million in damages, but several of his claims were dropped by the court in 2022.

Who will testify?

Paltrow's husband, Brad Falchuk, and her children -- 18-year-old daughter, Apple, and 16-year-old son, Moses -- are expected to testify, her lawyer said during opening statements on Tuesday.

The trial is set to last two weeks.

Paltrow's side of the story

In her amended complaint, the 50-year-old actress says in legal documents that Sanderson "admits he does not remember what happened" and that "Ms. Paltrow remembers what happened very clearly." In those documents, Paltrow says she was enjoying skiing with her family on vacation when Sanderson, "who was uphill from Ms. Paltrow, plowed into her back."

Paltrow claims she "sustained a full 'body blow'" and "was angry" with Sanderson and said so. She claims Sanderson "apologized" and that she was shaken and upset and quit skiing for the day even though it was still morning.

She added that "because her injuries were relatively minor, she seeks damages in the amount of $1 for the economic and non-economic damages caused by these injuries, plus her cost and attorneys' fees to defend this meritless claim."

What they're saying

Legal expert Mitra Ahouraian, who is not involved in the case, tells ET that, essentially, the case boils down to he said, she said.

"On Gwyneth's side, we have the ski instructor who we would assume would be somebody who is trained in identifying who hit who on the slopes 'cause they're there every day, and we also presume that he's going to be impartial," Ahouraian says. "But there's this little twist of the fact that he was hired by Gwyneth Paltrow. He's been an instructor for those kids multiple times throughout the years, so there's a little bit of like, is there a bias? Then on the plaintiff side, we have his friend who said he also witnessed it, so it really is a he said, she said or multiple he saids, she saids."

As for why she filed a countersuit, Ahouraian thinks Paltrow is doing so "as a matter of principle."

"It's kind of interesting because she's saying, 'I wasn't really hurt' and I think that helps her, too, just filing a lawsuit for a dollar," Ahouraian says. "So, it doesn't really warrant me asking you for money, but as a matter of principle, you hit me, not the other way around."

And therein lies the reason why she's not settling out of court. Ahouraian believes Paltrow's taking a stand.

"I think anytime you have somebody settling out of court -- and this happens all the time with lawsuits -- it kind of encourages the practice of bringing frivolous lawsuits of suing someone anytime something happens, whether or not there's a valid claim there," she says. "Sometimes there's a disparity, people that are suing sort of the corporation all the time, and maybe it's not the strongest case but they're figuring, 'Oh, it's a corporation. This is a drop in the bucket for them.' So, anytime you have a settlement in a situation like that, it really is encouraging this idea that you can file a frivolous lawsuit and you can recover something if you're going after deep pockets."

Paltrow takes the stand 

The actress took the stand on day 4 of the trial, and there was an explosive moment when Sanderson's attorney, Kristin VanOrman, accused Paltrow of lying under oath a number of times in previous sworn depositions.

The explosive accusation prompted Paltrow to drop her jaw in shock before shaking her head. Her attorney, Steve Owens, called the comment "slanderous" and demanded the comment be withdrawn from the record. VanOrman later re-phrased her statement and apologized to Paltrow.

"And I am sorry. All I’m saying is there were inconsistencies," VanOrman later said. "I am not trying to slander Ms. Paltrow or say she’s lying, by any which way or form."

Owens responded by saying, "My client says she resents that."

Paltrow was adamant that Sanderson crashed into her from behind. When asked if she felt any empathy towards the retired optometrist who alleges he suffered a brain injury and four broken ribs, Paltrow said she felt "very sorry for him" because "it seems he's had a very difficult life."

"But I did not cause the accident so I cannot be at fault for anything that subsequently happened to him," she added.

When the collision happened, Paltrow, who also was questioned about her relationship with Taylor Swift, said she initially thought, for a split second, that it was some kind of "practical joke" or "someone doing something perverted."

"So, that was a quick thought that went through my head when I was trying to reconcile what was happening," she said from the witness stand.

Paltrow said Sanderson's two skis came between her skis, forcing her legs apart. She also said Sanderson's body pressed up against her back and that she heard strange noises, like grunting and groaning "in a disturbing way."

"My brain was trying to make sense of what was happening," she said. "I thought, 'Is this a practical joke? Is someone doing something perverted? This is really strange.' My mind was going ver, very quickly and I was trying to ascertain what was happening."